By Matt Baginski
In 1981, guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield joined forces with drummer Lars Ulrich. Add lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo to the mix, and you’ve got one of the greatest heavy metal rock bands of all time: Metallica. In the 35 years since, Metallica has been able to close the distance between hardcore heavy metal head-bangers and the average music listener.
Hits like “Enter Sandman,” which was popularized by Yankees great Mariano Rivera, are a testament to Metallica’s ability to create music that appeals to fans outside of the heavy metal scene. This is something they are trying to accomplish yet again with “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct.” The album, just like their previous five, has topped the Billboard Top 200 since its release on Friday, Nov. 18. “Hardwired” is Metallica’s 10th album to date and has the potential to become one of the band’s best.
The band is no stranger to success, as evidenced by their numerous awards and accolades, including eight Grammy Awards and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. Since the release of Metallica’s third album “Master of Puppets” in 1986, the band has solidified itself as one of the top five heavy metal/thrash metal bands of all time.
This massive success often spells disaster for rock groups. Aside from relatively poor reception of “St. Anger” in 2003, the band has managed to not only survive, but thrive with their newest release.
“Hardwired” contains just about everything a Metallica fan could ask for from one of their albums. Fast-paced, headbanging, eardrum-deafening heavy metal –– the same stuff your cooler older brother would listen to back in college. Seriously, though, the album is solid, receiving high ratings from Rolling Stone and The Guardian, and placing No. 1 in the charts worldwide.
Metallica is back, making a name for itself amongst a generation whose constituents weren’t even alive when their first few albums were released.
The deluxe edition of “Hardwired” is a three-disc collection that contains the standard two-disc version, along with additional live renditions of Metallica songs. The extra disk includes covers of other band’s great tracks, like Slayer’s “Remember Tomorrow.” I’ll be basing my review off the standard edition, which kicks off with a single released earlier in the year, “Hardwired.” According to an interview on “The Howard Stern Show” from Monday, Sept. 26, Ulrich and Hetfield wanted a quick introduction to kick things off.
“Hardwired” sets the tone for the first disc of the album with high octane guitar riffs and classic Metallica double kick drum madness. Although frantic, the music flows well and seems as if it is progressing linearly — a difficult feat to accomplish when playing at such high beats per minute.
Hetfield on the vocals, screams, “We’re so fucked! Shit out of luck! Hardwired to self-destruct!” — a classic example of the angst and semi-controlled chaos that has propelled Metallica into stardom.
The following track “Atlas, Rise!” is a true to form Metallica classic –– seven minutes of vicious, adrenaline-pumping rhythm with periodic momentary rests before diverting back into pandemonium. Consequenceofsound.net rated “Atlas, Rise!” as one of the top 10 best Metallica songs of all time, a reasonable enough claim, albeit a bit surprising. The third track on disc one was not released as a single ahead of the album’s release, but that does not stop it from being just as, if not more, heavy and brooding than its predecessors.
In “Now That We’re Dead,” Hetfield vocalizes a story of love gone too soon, but also the optimism in death that one will be united with their friends and family. Metallica is known for their themes of mortality, sadness and pain that comes with being human, and “Now That We’re Dead” is a testament to these motifs. Throw in a fantastic guitar solo backed by Ulrich kick pedaling like a madman, and this song makes for one of the best tracks on their 10th album. The rest of disc one finishes out strongly with two more tracks including another pre-released single “A Moth Into The Flame” and “Halo On Fire.”
Disc two doesn’t contain any singles off the album, and is not as polished as the first. “Here Comes Revenge” and the conclusion, “Spit Out The Bone,” are the strongest tracks on the latter end of this album. “ManUNkind” is very choppy as Ulrich and Hammet play quickly and often not at the same pace. I’m not sure what they were going for here, but the chaos is much less controlled, to a point where it can really irritate you if you pay enough attention to it.
The three remaining tracks are not exactly filler, but also not quite on par with the rest of the album. They reside in a sort of forgettable limbo and are part of the reason, along with the clumsiness of “ManUNkind,” that some critics have given this album a lower rating than it deserves.
“Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” is as true to Metallica as most of their earliest works. It’s an album that long-time fans will adore and perhaps catalyze a newfound fondness for heavy thrash metal among younger audiences. Classic themes of death, love, pain and freedom are all expressed throughout the two-disc, 12-track set.
The masterful talent of Hammett, Ulrich, Hetfield and Trujillo are apparent, despite the faults on a few of the tracks from the second disc. Metallica fans like myself will adore this album, and if you’ve never heard their music, I suggest you give it a listen at the gym or during a caffeine-fueled study binge.